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This article was originally published in issue #33
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Despite having recently reached its 10 year anniversary, Freshman guitars remains a fairly “underground” company. Based just outside Glasgow, each of its guitars is designed in Scotland, with final production handled by a dedicated production facility in Asia, where the guitars are handmade. Currently Freshman has six key lines: Renegade, Maple Ridge, Songwriter Series, Apollo Collection, Cedar Creek and Manuel Ferrino classical guitars. In addition to this it also offers a select range of ukuleles and semi-acoustic guitars, as well as an accessories range. In this review we're looking at two of its steel strung guitars from the 400 series: the straight ahead FA400D, and the FA400GACEF, which is an electro-acoustic. Both of these guitars are in the upper-mid price range, which is currently a very competitive market. So how do they stack up against the competition? Please check out the video to hear how they sound and to have a good look at them.
Freshman claims: “The 400 series offers a return on your investment like no other, with price comparable guitars offering you far poorer tone-woods and far less rewarding sound.” The FA400D is a Dreadnought sized acoustic. It's certainly a great looking instrument with flawless finishing throughout. The natural gloss finish is classy and understated. Freshman makes a big play of using high quality tonewoods and the solid AAA graded Engelmann spruce top, solid Indian rosewood back and sides, with a rosewood fingerboard and mahogany neck bears that out, as well as doing a great job of tone matching overall, with the mahogany and rosewood giving depth/warmth and the spruce top adding some mids and bright top end.
The playability on our review sample was spot on, as was the intonation and dynamic continuity. If you are used to low action and thin electric necks, then this set-up may take a little adjustment though, as the action was a little on the high side, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, a slightly higher action tends to yield better tone and reduces the problems of fret buzz. Being a Dreadnought size there was plenty of volume achievable, good resonance throughout and an array of tones available depending on where and how you played it. Tuning stability was great and that has a lot to do with the gold Grover machine heads that look and feel like they belong on a far more expensive guitar. Dreadnoughts are probably the most common acoustic guitar styles but there is still plenty of room for failure with poor construction, choice of woods and attention to detail. I am happy to report that no such problems exist with this one from Freshman, this is a fantastic pull out and play guitar, at a competitive price. Also worth noting is that this guitar, like its sibling, comes with a really high quality case included in the price.
The FA400GACEF uses the same wood combination and hardware, but is a Grand Auditorium size with a cutaway, and also benefits from a pickup. Again, the finish on our sample was immaculate, and the playability spot on. Both were set up in a similar way, so once again they may take a little getting used to if you favour a lower action. Never forget, though, that a good retailer can easily adjust that for you. The cutaway on this model made the dusty end of the fretboard far more accessible, although that is weighed up against taking some wood away from the instrument, and therefore losing some natural resonance. The smaller sized body won't produce as much acoustic volume, either.
The important test with this model was how it sounded plugged in. The electronics are the Fishman Presys 301 system with a built-in tuner, 3-band EQ, plus notch, mic blend and phase controls (all demonstrated on the video). The EQ system was self-explanatory and easy to use, as was the tuner. Plugged straight into the studio PA system the pickup worked well, offering warm tones and bright tops without losing much of the natural acoustic tonal qualities, there were also no issues with feedback, despite being very close to the foldbacks.
As we found with the FA400D, the GACEF is equipped and finished to a much higher spec then you might expect in this price range. No corners have been cut and good honest workmanship and attention to detail make this a serious contender for those looking for a top notch electro-acoustic. The GACEF doesn't quite make the extra half star for special value that its sibling does, not because there is anything wrong with it but because once you start getting into this slightly higher price bracket, you start to move into more famous company. Don't let that put you off - this is still a fine guitar!
I have played a few Freshman guitars and I have always been hugely impressed. The ones I've played have demonstrated high quality throughout, offer great playability and fantastic tones. Competition is fierce out there at the moment for acoustics in this price range, but these two should be placed right at the forefront. If you are looking for a top quality, great sounding acoustic or electro acoustic then I highly recommend that you go check them out. Note the great case it comes with, too.